Q: I seem to eat faster than other people. Could that cause weight gain? — Sarah Kowalski, Rancho Verde, California
A: It's very possible. Once we've started eating, there are two reasons we stop—either we're satisfied or we've run out of food. To achieve that satisfied sensation, several physiological reactions must take place. For example, hormones need to travel from the gut to the brain, providing feedback on how the eating process is coming along. And stretch receptors in the stomach must indicate that it's nearing capacity. But food takes a little time to reach the stomach, and the stretch receptors can be slow to react; eat too fast and the all-full signal could come too late to prevent you from overeating.
The risks of speedy dining were spelled out in a recent study published in the British Medical Journal: Japanese researchers queried nearly 3,300 people about their eating habits and discovered that those who reported eating quickly until they felt full were three times as likely to be overweight as slow eaters who stopped before they were full.
I find it interesting that this study was done in Japan, because in Okinawa, a place known for its healthy and long-lived populace, there is a saying—hara hachi bu—that loosely translates "Eat until 80 percent full." If you have a tough time slowing your pace at the dinner table (ideally, you should put down your fork between bites), try stopping before you feel full, as most Okinawans do. I can't guarantee the practice will work; however, you have nothing to lose but weight.
David L. Katz, MD, is director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and president of the nonprofit Turn the Tide Foundation.